Explore our science programmes

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NCAS science and indeed NERC science supported by NCAS, is increasingly dependent on the deployment of the latest technology for observing the atmosphere, on newly emerging modelling approaches and on integrated analysis of data. For example, new sensor technologies promise measurement of a wider range at physical and chemical properties of the atmosphere using lower power and light weight instruments. 

deployment of the latest technology for observing the atmosphere

Numerical simulation of the atmosphere at extremes of resolution will be enabled by new computational methods, for example using novel meshes. NCAS has a well-established tradition of technology development but this has tended to be reactive to immediate demands from individual science projects or NCAS services. 

The recognition of technology as a crucial under-pinning thematic activity within the NERC strategy 2007-2012, Next Generation Science for Planet Earth, presents NCAS with the opportunity to develop a coherent, integrated and longer term strategy for technology development. The identification of this as a separate (but inter-dependent) programme reflects the enhanced priority which NCAS now attaches to the activity. The programme will draw upon the established experience and expertise of NCAS scientists and technologists working in partnership with external organisations.

Instrument Development

New instruments and analysis techniques will be developed in NCAS for use in field campaigns designed to address, in particular, science challenges 3 and 4. The programme will build on existing strengths and infrastructure to develop a wide-ranging program of improvements in our observational capability. Development may occur wholly within NCAS or by partnerships with other organisations. Examples of the former include new instruments for trace gas measurements using FAGE, CIMS and cavity-ringdowm spectroscopy, and instruments for new platforms such as the tethered balloon. The latter includes developing and improving commercially available instruments through calibration, software development and rigorous testing.

developing and improving commercially available instruments through calibration, software development and rigorous testing.


Cloud and aerosol probes, turbulence probes and temperature and humidity sensors for the FAAM aircraft, and remote sensing instruments such as lidar, are examples of this. Through partnership we will also contribute to emerging areas of technology such as networks of sensors. We are working with the Met Office, mobile telephony and broadcast industries to develop networks for water vapour and precipitation measurement.

Metrology and Calibration

The high credibility of NCAS research is supported by the quality of the observations. We will enhance this credibility by developing and exchanging measurement standards, tools and protocols to make NCAS observations more robust and targeted at the needs of users. We will work with the National Physical Laboratory to ensure our physical and chemical observations meet international standards and will improve the interfaces between data collection, quality assurance and curation, making observations relevant and usable by a wider section of the science community into the future.

A critical component of NCAS science is the quantification of long-term trends. We will provide long-term support to the observational community through the development of methods to underpin the routine measurements of key chemical species and physical and dynamical quantities, including the provision of standardisation, calibration and validation. This will permit the use of such observations to decisively identify trends over time.

We will assist the exploitation of observational data in model validation, evaluating the sensitivities of weather, climate and composition predictions to the observational measurement uncertainty. We will tailor the measurement science to the needs of next-generation models, improving calibration systems and minimising key critical sources of error. In doing this we will act to support the improvement of predictive capability sought by the NCAS community and society in general.

Computational and Model Technology

The challenges to develop the next generation weather forecast and climate models is crucially dependent on the utilisation of new numerical schemes permitting large increases in local or global resolution. Radically new computational algorithms will be needed to exploit massively parallel computing hardware (with O(106) cores), to overcome polar filtering limitations and to ensure conservation of scalar quantities. In partnership with others (including the Met Office, NCAR and the STFC) we will evaluate the merits of different grids (e.g., Yin-Yang, Cubed Sphere in the horizontal; cut-cell in the vertical) and limited adaptivity (e.g. model nesting, cell sub-division). We will also contribute to the development of conservative advection schemes).

Integrated observing systems

We will apply new technologies to probe the properties of the atmosphere resolved in both in time and space, and develop tools to integrate data from a multiplicity of sources. We will strive to take a whole-atmosphere view and link local surface observations with remote sensing techniques and with observations from satellites.

Data Handling Technology

Nearly all branches of science produce data which are both heterogeneous and ever more voluminous. This is especially true with atmospheric science where the requirements to observe and simulate finer scales with better time resolution and greater spatial coverage are continually supported by improvements in both measurement technology and high performance computers. The consequential issues for data handling are significant: all data needs to be documented to ever increasing levels of fidelity (to support wider communities of users with ever more heterogeneous data) and services need to be constructed to support "server-side" sub-setting, processing and visualisation (to minimise high volume network traffic associated with the ever greater volumes of data). We will continue to ensure that the data produced and required by the NERC atmospheric science community is securely archived and made available in the most effective ways possible. To that end we will continue to exploit and enhance appropriate national and international standards for data description and handling, to develop and deploy generic data ingestion and access tools to improve the data producer and consumer experiences, and to develop and deploy specific data handling tools as required and funded by scientific programmes.